Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's latest novel QUEEN OF DREAMS is
another tale of East meets West. She writes what she knows best,
about the world of the Indian immigrant living in America. In this
novel, as in THE VINES OF DESIRE, Divakaruni takes the reader to
northern California. Rakhi, a divorced mother of one, is trying to
deal with life as a single mother and understand her own mother,
who is able to interpret dreams.
Divakaruni blends both the metaphysical with the tangible physical
world. Mrs. Gupta, Rakhi's mother, had kept a journal throughout
her life. The chapters of QUEEN OF DREAMS are interspersed with
these journal entries that describe her dreams and her everyday
waking thoughts. One gets a glimpse of her life, from her days in
India where she learned to be a dream interpreter to the day she
met her husband, Rakhi's father. Mrs. Gupta continues her journal
after she settles in America with her new husband and child,
revealing a different perspective from what Rakhi sees as reality.
The dreams themselves take on a poetic feel, filled with symbolism
and folklore that reveal to the reader an image of India; not the
physical aspects, but the cultural beliefs, the myths, and the
legends. It's a contrast between Western Civilization and the Old
World of the East.
The story opens with Mrs. Gupta's dream of a snake, the foreseer of
change. She tries to guess what the snake is telling her, whether
he is foretelling a birth or a death. She senses a bad omen and
finally understands that it is her own death the snake is warning
her about. The snake reassures her that, although death means an
end to life, it can also mean a new beginning. It is snippets of
dreams like this that help shape the mood of the book and prepares
the reader for what is yet to come.
Unlike her mother, Rakhi is totally rooted in the physical world of
Northern California. She knows very little about her parents' lives
in India and wishes she knew more. She makes her living by running
a coffeehouse called The Chai House with her best friend Belle, but
Rakhi's real goal is to become an artist. She paints when she can,
and her latest obsession is a painting that involves a man dressed
in white. She doesn't know who he is, but he hovers just beyond her
reach. She searches in vain for this man that she instinctively
feels may have the key to some of the unknowns in her life.
One of the main themes is that of the relationship between mother
and daughter, and it is done very well through the characters of
Rakhi and her mother, as well as through Rhaki's six-year-old
daughter Jona. Rakhi feels close to her mother, but there is a wall
that prevents them from ever becoming truly close. Her mother
refuses to discuss the dreams or her life in India, and Rakhi is
bitter, unhappy that she does not understand this part of her
mother's life, a life that is so guarded that it causes a rift in
their relationship. Her divorce is another sore point between them.
Her parents still love Sonny, but she can never explain to them why
she had to leave him. Her daughter Jona loves both her parents, and
as the novel progresses, Rakhi encounters problems with her own
daughter because of her muddled relationship with Sonny.
Things change when Mrs. Gupta dies in a tragic automobile accident,
and the dynamics of some of Rakhi's important relationships are
changed forever. She notices her father for the first time, and
he's not the same indifferent man she thought she knew. Together
they read her mother's journal, an act that will change both of
them forever. She also finds herself in a maturing relationship
with Sonny, while she herself is changing and growing too.
QUEEN OF DREAMS is ultimately a story of how one woman touches
those around her during her life and into death. Divakaruni's
talent is not only good storytelling, but also creating characters
that are dynamic and real in one way or another. One may not truly
believe in the power of dreams, but that isn't the point of this
book. The focus is on family, relationships, pride in one's
heritage, and how one may not truly understand another as well as
they think. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton (Ratmammy@lofton.org) on January 23, 2011
Queen of Dreams